Sunday, April 08, 2018

'Hello, George? Orchestre de Paris here....'

The other week, conductor George Jackson's account of his last-minute close encounter with the LSO, some lost Ubers and a banana case became my fourth most popular post ever on JDCMB (behind only the London Hamburger Orchestra, the story of Enescu and an interview with the divine Cecilia). So when he called up and said 'You're not going to believe what happened the other day', I thought he'd better tell us about it.... JD

Remember the Horse...
George Jackson to the rescue, once again

George Jackson
Photo: A.P. Wilding
It’s another Sunday morning, but this time, a more civilised 10:30am. And it’s Easter.  I have had an interesting weekend, beginning with fulfilling my role as ‘best man’ for a good friend (go-karting in Tower Bridge and a barbecue-style feast in East London for the stag) and complemented by listening to my local church choir singing the gorgeous Fauré Requiem for Easter Saturday.

I am sipping coffee and very slowly packing my case for a week in Paris, this time, working with my mentor, Daniel Harding, as second conductor for the gargantuan Ives Fourth Symphony (which requires three conductors).  I decide to check-in with the maestro by text, since he likes us to meet half an hour or so before each rehearsal in the Conductor’s Room.

A reply: ‘George, I have an ear infection.  The doctor just told me not to fly and that my antibiotics might clear my ear in 3-5 days. I’m so sorry.  Not sure what the orchestra will decide to do. I’m going to get back to you ASAP.  You might have to take over the concert’.


But then of course, I had just convinced my sister that her car had been stolen during the night (April Fool’s!)  So this must be another one of those.  It’s a damn good one!

Daniel confirms, via sad face emoticon, that it is not an April Fool’s….

‘Would you be willing to step in?’

I am fondly reminded of that Eddie Redmayne story, á la Joey Tribbiani.  ‘Yes!  I can ride a horse for the part.  Of course’. Always say yes.

So I do.

Seventy-five per cent of me still thinks this is an April Fool’s, and 25% is flooded with adrenaline. ‘Expect a call’...

The remaining 75% becomes adrenaline as the Orchestre de Paris’s management call within minutes, asking me how I feel, and whether, alongside taking over the main conducting of the Ives, I can also conduct the other concert items: Jonathan Harvey’s ‘Wheel of Emptiness’ with the Ensemble Intercontemporain, and Jörg Widmann’s clarinet concerto ‘Echo Fragments’, which features the composer as soloist, and a mixed ensemble of Orchestre de Paris and Les Arts Florissants, pitted at opposite ends of the stage in a kind of orchestral time machine.  It’s a beautifully conceived concert, featuring all three orchestras performing side-by-side.

Remember the horse!

About an hour later, I am in Luton Airport’s branch of Wasabi.  I must be the first customer to inhale their (frankly, delicious) 'Chicken katsu yakisoba bento’ whilst poring over an A1 score of an 
Ives symphony (there is still a small soy sauce stain in the top corner of the second movement, page 46).  I am sure the other customers think I am rather odd.

Given my illustrious history of Uber mishaps, I am amazed that, having collected my luggage, an Uber is outside Charles de Gaulle within minutes, and we are speeding our way to Pantin, the Philharmonie’s neighbourhood in north-east Paris.

At the hotel, the first room I am given features a man in a dressing gown cooking pasta and watching Formula 1.  A quick trip back to reception confirms that they did give me the wrong room.  New key card for the room next door: that doesn’t work.  Three return trips to reception (and four flights of stairs each time), and I finally get a fresh room.  The Orchestra have very kindly left scores at reception for the pieces I have not yet seen, the Harvey and the Widmann.

I am sitting down at the desk by 6pm, opening up the scores, prioritising for the next day’s schedule (Ives in the morning, Harvey in the evening).

I break for a shower, where I count from 1 to 100 and recite the alphabet in French (that GCSE finally came in useful).  In a rehearsal situation comprising of about 150 on stage (the Ives features a large chorus too), it will be really important to make sure everybody understands clearly where we are starting from.

I doze off for about 90 minutes in the small hours, powered through the night by the adrenaline high.  The alarm officially wakes me at 8 to go into the Philhamonie for the first reading at 10.  I walk
through the deserted streets (it’s Easter Monday after all), track down a bakery where I order a double espresso and a very fresh Pain au chocolat.  Like the Pilgrim in Hawthorne’s ‘Celestial Railroad’, which forms the basis of Ives’ Symphony, I trudge towards the horizon, Jean Nouvel’s spiraling aluminium forming a curtain to open the week to come.

It’s going to be a wild ride….